By Mark Spence, President of Colorado Baptists
In the Broadway smash-hit, Hamilton, as Alexander Hamilton rises to prominence, he debates Samuel Seabury about the validity of the revolution. Seabury states his opposition to the “proceedings of the Continental Congress.” At first, Hamilton counters Seabury’s argument point-by- point, but in the second verse, Hamilton devolves into an ad hominem attack against Seabury.
An ad hominem attack occurs when instead of arguing against the merits of a perspective, an opponent resorts to insults. These ad hominem, or personal attacks, have increasingly occurred in our national convention over the course of the last few years. One of the reasons why is that ad hominem comments are incredibly effective. Maybe even worse, the ad hominem insults can be rather entertaining.
As Hamilton refutes Seabury with ad hominem comments, the pace of the song quickens. The complexity of the music increases and the volume of Hamilton crescendos. His friends cheer his insults as they become more and more clever. In short, the song becomes more and more entertaining the more biting Hamilton’s comments become.
The same is true in our national debates about the direction of the SBC. Too many pastors, leaders, and observers of the Southern Baptist Convention have devolved into throwing around insults instead of engaging in kind and well-intentioned conversation about the issues of the day. The sad part is how insults and barbs lead to bigger platforms and more followers on Twitter.
The more biting the insults, the more entertaining the argument. The more entertaining the argument the greater platform for the arguers. The increase in number of followers convinces the arguers that they are in the right, even though their methods are very much in the wrong.
People who believe in the inerrancy of God’s Word and in partnering for the gospel are being labeled as “liberals” or “woke” at one moment while others are being called “Pharisees” and “Fundies.” Friends are egging the personal attacks on with “likes” or retweets on social media. This will not end well unless we change how we engage those with whom we disagree on points that are certainly not primary doctrines and are rarely, if ever, even secondary ones.
In Matthew 16:26, Jesus asks, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” If I may be so bold, I would like to reframe this powerful statement of Jesus by asking, what good is it to gain the whole of God’s Word through the conservative resurgence but forfeit our soul?
The fight for the inerrancy of the Bible was a fight for the whole of God’s Word. Either the SBC would believe in the whole of God’s Word or we would abandon orthodoxy for something far less. Praise God that ours is really the only denomination in American history that teetered on the edge of liberalism only to return to biblical inerrancy.
Inerrancy is crucial. Without it, our doctrine becomes arbitrary and based on the whims of the day. What we must also cling to is the relationship between inerrancy, orthodoxy, and orthopraxy. Right belief, without right practice, is worthless.
The Lord Jesus Christ commanded His disciples to be different. His expectation of His followers is to love God with all of our being and to love our neighbor as ourselves. When it comes to how we disagree, one way to love our neighbor is to show them respect.
A respectful disagreement is a conversation focused on the merits of the argument not based on who can better insult their opponent. Insinuating and assuming the worst is not respectful. Inaccurately representing someone you disagree with is disrespectful. The same disrespect happens when we throw around terms like “liberal” to everyone who disagrees with you. Especially in a group of people who affirm the inerrancy of God’s Word.
The same is true for those who respond by calling others “Pharisees.” This is not the way for followers of Jesus Christ. We are neither a family with liberals (to any great extent) or Pharisees (to any great extent either). Let’s make the few liberals and Pharisees alike uncomfortable with our love and respect towards one another.
Here in Colorado, let’s be a family of churches who love each other as ourselves. Let’s be a group of pastors and churches who trip over one another in kindness and respect. Instead of assuming the worst, let us believe the best of each other.
We are better together. We are at our best when partnering with one another. Let’s love our neighbor as ourselves proving that we are a convention passionate about believing God’s Word and living according to God’s Word.